Heather Coffey

Dr. Coffey's research encompasses themes related to Christian and Islamic cross- and inter-cultural relations in Medieval Mediterranean and Italian Renaissance Art and Architecture. She has published articles concerning the relation between the spread of mi–raj texts in translation and the efflorescence of illustrated manuscripts of Beatus of Li–bana's Commentary on the Apocalypse in Spain from c.

IAMD Florence Residency - David Constantino Salazar

In-progress bird sculpture by David Constantino Salazar
Friday, October 14, 2016 - 4:00am

Current Interdisciplinary Master's in Art, Media and Design student David Constantino Salazar shares his expereince studying in Florence this past summer as part of the OCAD U Florence Off-Campus Study Program:

"My Independent Study in Florence, Italy, began in the spring of 2016, with my research and studio production overseen by Professor Dr. Martha Ladly.

The Independent Studio was a focus on how in both painting and sculpture, narratives and allegory come together through form and matter in the work of the Renaissance masters, such as Michelangelo, Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti.  The visual study in Florence was fundamental to my studio practice as a sculptor, where I use a traditional hand modeling technique of clay and wax that are directly linked to the studio practice of many of the Italian Renaissance artists.

In Florence, with the help of art resident historian Dr. Katharina Giraldi. I studied the anatomical techniques and compositional approaches used by artists in the representation of both human and animal.  I gained an understanding of the symbolic imagery used to communicate cultural ideologies.  My proposal was to digest the research through a series of miniature plasticine clay studies. The choice to model on a small scale gave me the ability to fluidly work through ideas both structurally and conceptually.  My research in the IAMD program explores allegorical narrative through anthropomorphic animal sculptures. I am interested in how the physicality of matter through form and gestures bring characters to life.

In Florence, I developed a series of bird sculptures at the moment of impact of having crashed into a wall. The work is ignited by the viewer’s imagination when my offerings of forms and gestures become characters, narratives, metaphors and allegories in the mind of the viewer.

My research also involved traveling to, Pietrasanta, in order to visit contemporary artist Fernando Botero’s frescos (Heaven – Hell). 

I left Italy with an enormous amount of gratitude for having the privileged experience to further my research with the assistance of Professor Dr. Martha Ladly."

More about the IAMD Program: http://www.ocadu.ca/academics/graduate-studies/interdisciplinary-masters-in-art-media-and-design.htm 

More about David Constantino Salazar's work: http://www.projectsalazar.com/

Series of small sculptures sitting on a workbench in a sunny room with an open window overlooking a rooftop

Straordinario! Florence: an extraordinary place for transdisciplinary artistic discovery and practice

Cradle of the Renaissance, the ancient Italian city of Florence is the perfect place for developing your knowledge of almost any subject.

Over the centuries, it’s been home to some of the most significant scientific and mathematical discoveries. Likewise, painters, sculptors, writers and historians living and working here have expanded the frontiers of culture and society. Indeed, the transdisciplinary practices of artists such as Brunelleschi and Da Vinci involved astounding investigations and collaborations in the realms of physics, biology, chemistry, engineering and architecture.

Since 1974, OCAD University’s Florence Off-Campus Studies program has been drawing students like me across the Atlantic. At the time of this writing and for the three-and-a-half weeks that preceded it, I have been living and learning in this amazing terra-cotta Tuscan city with two fellow Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design (IAMD) students: Annette Mangaard and David Salazar.

IAMD MFA group in front of Siena Duomo (Photo by Camila Justino) David Salazar (and son Bento), Annette Mangaard, Dan Soloman, Martha Ladly and Jill Price

Florentine crossroads

For me, one of the most enriching aspects of my time in Florence has been the opportunity to investigate the interconnectivity of the early Renaissance’s globalized economic and cultural landscape. I have gained a much more comprehensive understanding, for example, about how the guilds, merchants, banks and churches were financially interwoven.

I have also discovered that, despite rudimentary forms of transportation and communication, international trade was already occurring. This led to a dynamic exchange of natural resources, artistic skill sets and design aesthetics.

From life into art

Also check out emerging artist Alex Murphy’s Five best things about studying art in Florence.

For David Salazar, an award-winning sculptor who explores the animalistic behaviours of humans through the abstraction of form and narrative figuration, time in this city has had a direct impact on his art practice:

"Aside from the art that Florence is well known for, my experience is best reflected by the work I'm currently resolving, which involves sculpting maquettes of birds at the moment of impact with a wall. I have been greatly inspired by the pigeons that make their way through the city. Although they are viewed as pests, they also embody a sense of elegance as if posing for tourists cameras taking selfies."

David Salazar working on sculptures of pigeons in the OCAD U studios in Florence (Photo by Jill Price) David Salazar working on sculptures of pigeons in the OCAD U studios in Florence (Photo by Jill Price)

Nature and health

Annette Mangaard, a consummate traveller who has shown her work at film festivals and cinematheques around the globe, is researching the benefits of nature on human health. Planning to create an installation that offers audiences a simulated, natural environment, Annette says,

"I've enjoyed being in Florence, where I've been filming microscopic details of images of flora found within Renaissance paintings. I'll be compositing these with botanicals filmed within the surrounding gardens and courtyards to create layered media work."

Annette Mangaard shooting the flora of Florence (Photo by Jill Price) Annette Mangaard shooting the flora of Florence (Photo by Jill Price)

Why not stay here forever?

Given the treasure trove of art and culture that is Florence, it comes as no surprise that some visitors — including OCAD U students — choose never to leave. One such person with whom we have spent time is OCAD U alumna Allison Wooley. In addition to teaching out of her professional studio, Allison restores frescoes and gilding throughout the region, and procures large commissions designing and painting replicas of antique harpsichords.

I asked Allison what inspired her to stay in Florence after completing a post-graduate year of study here:

"At that time (the 1980s), the artisan community was flourishing. Almost every arch or doorway was an artisan studio making lovely things. I found the courage to start looking for work, and one studio eventually let me in. I learned so much there and continued to learn by inviting master artisans into my studio to teach."

These artisans are fun-loving and generous individuals. They have taught me and many others water gilding, egg tempera painting, true fresco, grisailles and other techniques and traditions unbroken since the Renaissance. Over the years, I have also learned the tenets of harmony, proportion and colour, while appreciating and absorbing both the natural and manmade beauty of Florence and Tuscany.

Buon viaggio

Jill Price rubbing the nose of the Florence boar (Photo by David Salazar) Jill Price rubbing the nose of the Florence boar (Photo by David Salazar)

It is with a heavy heart that I will leave this magical place. However, I will depart knowing what a rich experience I have had, and with the comfort that I will return. How do I know this? I rubbed the snout of Il Porcellinothe little pig — just to be sure. 


Andiamo a Firenze! Jills top 10 things to know if youre heading over to Florence to study:

  1. Grazie. Prego. Ciao! A little bit of Italian goes a long way. 
  2. It rains everywhere.
  3. State-of-the-art walking shoes are a must. 
  4. Rent a place with a small kitchenette. No one can afford to eat out in Florence three times a day.
  5. If you plan on touring a church: women must have their legs and shoulders covered to enter. I haven’t seen any men turned away yet, but I am assuming sleeves are a must. 
  6. Do not exchange your money at the airport in Florence! I repeat, do not exchange your money at the airport in Florence! 
  7. Don’t bring over your studio supplies. The art stores are well stocked, affordable and the staff are super friendly. Be sure to ask for your student discount if they don’t ask you first.
  8. Wifi is free in parts of the city, so you may be able to skip buying a SIM card by registering for FONGO, a free telephone service, and using Facebook messenger.
  9. Pack half the clothes you think you will need. The fashion rocks here!
  10.  Never say no to opportunities to tour in or outside the city. The books and studio will always be there when you get back.


Jill Price is the curator and education officer at Quest Art in Midland, Ontario. She is currently a student in OCAD UInterdisciplinary Masters in Art, Media and Design (IAMD) MFA program.

Jill Price
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Student artwork from the 2012/2013 Florence Program cohort. Photo by Martin Iskandar.
Student artwork from the 2012/2013 Florence Program cohort. Photo by Martin Iskandar.

Are you ready for an adventure in art history, and a unique studio-based challenge on location in the heart of the Italian Renaissance? The deadline for applications for OCAD U's 2014/2015 Florence Off-Campus Studies Program is January 17.

If you’re one of the 27 students selected to study in the Florence Program in 2014/2015, you’ll spend eight months immersed in Italian culture, surrounded by architectural and artistic treasures from the Italian Renaissance. You’ll learn art history on site in Florence and Rome with renowned art historian Peter Porcal. And you’ll develop your own work in a communal studio setting.

“It’s an experiential way to learn,” said Caroline Langill, Associate Dean, Faculty of Art. “Seeing the work in situ is always superior to a reproduction. Everything has meaning in an artwork when you see it in person.”

The Florence Program is based on more of an open, independent study model than most of the curriculum on campus at OCAD U. Langill describes it as more of a residency program  — something undergraduate students don’t normally have access to. If you go to Florence for your third year of study, it can also help set you up for your thesis. 

“If you haven’t been to Europe and you’re studying art, there’s nothing like it,” said Langill. While she noted experiencing the Renaissance first hand provides a western view of art, it is an important part of art history, and “going to a location like this can give you a critical perspective.”

You will have to pay for the program and your expenses — this is not a funded program — but as Langill points out, it’s not necessarily more expensive in Florence than in Toronto. 

If you apply, your portfolio will be evaluated by two faculty advisors. Applicants with a 70 average and a strong portfolio are all equally competitive.

Learn more

Florence Program overview and eligibility requirements 

Florence Program application form

Florence Program projected expenses